A a thick blanket of smoke choking Melbourne has forced a delay to the start of Tuesday’s Australian Open qualifiers.
Amid reports Melbourne’s air quality was the worst in the world this morning, Australian Open officials pushed back the start time of play from 10am to 11am AEDT with the smoke predicted to clear throughout the day.
It made for an anxious start to qualifying for hopefuls. Noah Rubin voiced his fears via Twitter earlier in the morning before officials had made a statement, with the American saying the “lack of information on how to proceed is scary”.
“Morning of first round of qualies here in Melbourne and not even a single email has been received about air quality,” Rubin said.
Visibility is down and smoke so thick fire alarms have been set off across the city. It’s possible matches could be moved indoors.
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Tennis Australia issued a statement insisting maintaining the “health and safety of our players, staff and our fans is our priority”.
Bernard Tomic is among 17 locals lining up in Australian Open qualifying getting under way at Melbourne Park on Tuesday.
A fixture in the main draw for a decade since becoming the youngest player, at just 16 years old, to win a men’s singles match at the Open in 2009, Tomic must win three sudden-death encounters to enter the season’s first grand slam starting next Monday.
The one-time Wimbledon quarter-finalist was overlooked for a wildcard after falling out with Tennis Australia and Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt.
Tennis Australia on Monday handed their last two men’s wildcards to Tomic’s countrymen Alex Bolt, who reached the third round last year, and Andrew Harris, a former French Open and Wimbledon junior doubles champion.
Tomic is intent on rebuilding his career after spiralling to No.182 in the rankings following a season to forget in 2019.
The Kooyong Classic, scheduled to start on Tuesday, is likely to proceed.
Tournament director Peter Johnston suggested the health of the players and all people involved in the tournament would be “paramount” in a statement released on Tuesday morning.
“At this stage, indications are that conditions will improve, and they will be monitored throughout the day,’ Johnston said.
“Fortunately, a later start time of 1:00pm will work in favour of the Kooyong Classic this year, with conditions set to gradually clear. Matches may be rescheduled to a later start time today, if so required.
Maria Sharapova, Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic are just some of the stars scheduled to play at Kooyong on Tuesday.
Marin Cilic, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Coco Vandeweghe – among others – are also taking part in the tournament.
Melbourne’s air quality has been a major concern for Tennis Australia this summer, as bushfires continue to rage across the country.
While Kooyong will incorporate fundraising activities into its three-day tournament, Tennis Australia’s big fundraiser will come via Rally for Relief at Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday night.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has continued to monitor Melbourne’s air quality, suggesting last week that experts will be consulted during the Grand Slam as to whether conditions are safe for play to proceed.
“Assessing the likelihood of smoke-induced interruptions is a bit like how we treat heat and rain,” Tiley said.
“We have experts who analyse all available live data as specific to our sites as possible and consult regularly with tournament officials and, in the case of heat and smoke, medical experts.”
TUESDAY’S KOOYONG CLASSIC SCHEDULE
Women’s Singles starts 1:00pm
Maria Sharapova (RUS) vs. Laura Siegemund (GER)
Followed by Men’s Singles
Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) vs. Borna Coric (CRO)
Followed by Men’s Singles
Milos Raonic (CAN) vs. Soonwoo Kwon (KOR)
Fourth Match TBD
– with AAP